Hope: Given or Taken?

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– Henry Neufeld

You have walked in your sister’s path,
And I will put her cup in your hand. Ezekiel 23:31 (HN)

What do you do when you see someone else fail? Perhaps it’s a coworker who doesn’t complete a project on schedule. Perhaps someone in your church has made a serious mistake or has fallen into sin. Perhaps it’s another church that has split up. Someone has fallen, and you hear about it. What do you do now?

Our verse speaks of just such a situation. If you need something encouraging and uplifting this morning, don’t read Ezekiel 23. It’s one of those judgment chapters. God is speaking to Judah through the prophet Ezekiel. Nearly a century and a half before, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians. Now Judah was under attack. During the intervening time, Judah had behaved very much like Israel, and now while the Babylonians attacked, they were continuing that behavior.

There had not been universal mourning in Judah over the fall of the northern kingdom either. Israel and Judah were rivals, and unfortunately spent a good deal of their resources fighting one another. But the main issue of Ezekiel 23 is faithfulness to God, and in that, both kingdoms behaved in much the same way.

So what do you do when someone else fails? I can think of four major responses.

First, we treat it as a topic of gossip. A juicy rumor is passed around the workplace. We talk to one another, find as many people as we can, and collect more details. “Do you know what so-and-so did?” “No, what?” The chatter goes through the office. Nobody benefits from it, because everyone is too busy enjoying the failure of another.

Unfortunately, churches and families often work in the same way. Rumors are passed on and grow without anyone stopping to pray for the person in trouble, or to ask themselves, “Could that be me?”

Second, we treat it as a time for judgment. “That wicked person, ______! People like that shouldn’t be allowed in the workplace/church/community. I hope he gets fired! I hope he goes to jail!” Again, we learn nothing from the event at all.

Third, we treat the downfall of others as an opportunity. “The First Self-Righteous Church split!” says the pastor of a rival church. “I hope we can pick up some of the members that fall by the wayside!” And don’t think this is limited to churches. If your coworker fails, does that open up an opportunity for advancement to you? If your sister falls out with your parents, does that mean more attention and approval for you?

Fourth, let’s consider what our verse would suggest. God tells the people of Judah that because they have followed their sister’s path (the northern kingdom of Israel), they are coming to the same destination. The same thing is going to happen to them.

And that’s what we often fail to consider in our own lives. When somebody else falls, that fall is the result of a course of action, of a path they followed. Their destination was the place that path was headed. Now I’m not encouraging gossip here. Let’s endeavor not to hear any more bad about other people than we absolutely have to. But when the consequences are laid bare for all to see, instead of gossiping, judging, or gloating, we need to do a foot check—check carefully where our feet are, and where we’re going.

I try to do this when I hear of a church leader who has fallen into sexual sin or engaged in financial improprieties. Can I be tempted to the same sin? I would be very foolish to assume that I was immune from temptation! Am I doing anything that opens me to such temptation? If not, I can praise God for that, and pray for the person who is in trouble. If there is any weakness, any opening for sin in my current path, it’s time for a correction.

The same path will lead to the same destination every time. If you follow it, you’ll get to the destination. Check your path!

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